Swastika banner from a private home
- Made by:
Home made, sewn with painted swastika
Red linen, appliqued white fabric circle with painted swastika
150 cm wide by 350 cm long (approx. 5 ft. by 11.5 ft.)
- Collection No.:
A souvenir banner with a swastika
In 2013 an unusual inquiry arrived at the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds. It came from Bainbridge Island, a town near Seattle in the far northwestern corner of the USA, and was signed by one Kenneth B. Klein, who had learned of the Center from a German relative. Kenneth Klein was the son of Ralph Klein, an American soldier who had been stationed in Nuremberg from May 1945 onward. As part of "peacekeeping measures," the son recalls, the soldiers also searched bombed-out, empty houses. There Ralph found an old typewriter, and according to a brief note that the son attached under the title "About this Flag," Ralph had swapped this typewriter with another American soldier for a big swastika flag that supposedly came from the "Nuremberg Stadium." It was certainly not unusual for GIs to gather mementos of their wartime service in Germany. Objects clearly associated with National Socialism were especially popular. In the same way, many of the swastika decorations taken down from the Zeppelinfeld also found their way to the USA. The banner, as a memento, traveled among Ralph's luggage to the state of Washington on the West Coast of the USA. But as it turned out, it did not come from the "Nuremberg Stadium," as the Nazi Party Rally Grounds were called in the son's recollection.
An unwanted legacy – What to do with the enormous flag?
After his father's death, the flag came to Kenneth's home by inheritance. But what on earth is anyone supposed to do with a swastika banner more than ten feet long? So the new owner decided to find a potentially sensible use for the historic piece – and since it came from Nuremberg, that's where it should go back. By that time, the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds had been in existence for ten years, and had earned an international reputation. So the family decided to donate the item, writing, "It will be good to get it out of our house, to a place where it belongs." For a time, the package with its controversial contents remained impounded by the Nuremberg customs authorities; ultimately, though, they released it because the recipient was well known and entirely reputable. The aim was to ensure that the object would be used purely for scholarly purposes; the swastika is a constitutionally prohibited symbol in Germany, and any use other than for research is a criminal offense.
What can a swastika banner tell us about the history of National Socialism?
Upon more detailed study, it quickly became evident that the banner could not have come from the Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. The flags from the Zeppelinfeld and the Luitpoldarena here were stamped "ZRN" – for "Zweckverband Reichsparteitag Nürnberg," the builder at the site. And despite the truly considerable size of the new addition to the Documentation Center's collection, it was still too small to have flown at the Rally Grounds. What's more, the flag was plainly home made – further ruling out any connection with the Rally Grounds, because the flags there were manufactured professionally. Yet the donor family was sure the item had originated in Nuremberg. So it must presumably have served to adorn a house in town on National Socialist state holidays, and also during the Nazi Party Rallies.
During the 1930s, rather than buying the customary banners for decoration, many households made one themselves. That was also reflected in literary sources: One of the Nazi era's biggest best-sellers was a potboiler named Barb – der Roman einer deutschen Frau ("Barb – A Novel of a German Woman") by Kuni Tremel-Eggert, and at its end the protagonist Barb is seen happily sewing a large Nazi banner. "The boys, aglow with enthusiasm, held the shining fabric," and finally the flag is unrolled out the window – an affirmation of loyalty and a sign of the ostensibly great new age of National Socialism.
The banner sent from the USA, now kept at the Documentation Center under the serial number DZO-0111, also bears witness to the fact that many people took part in National Socialist celebrations voluntarily. It is not entirely clear in the novel whether Barb is sewing a black, white and red horizontal tricolor, or a swastika banner. At first the two flags were used in parallel, but in any case both were declarations of opposition to democracy and loyalty to the Nazi state. The Reich Flag Act, one of the Nuremberg Laws adopted at the 1935 Nazi Party Rally, made the swastika the official flag of the German Reich. Thousands of swastika flags, banners and pennants flew from Nuremberg's houses during the Nazi Party Rallies.
At times, the National Socialists' cult of the flag could become downright bizarre. The Hitler Youth hymn, for instance, concludes with "The flag will lead us into eternity, yes, the flag is greater than death!" The swastika banner also indicates how deeply the symbols and ideals of National Socialism had penetrated into society and were exerting their effects there.
The flag also offers a final, very different clue. At one end, a piece of the cloth has been cut out, probably to be used for a different purpose after 1945. During the hardships of the postwar era, such a big piece of cloth would not have been thrown away, but kept for other needs. The Documentation Center's collection also includes excised round pieces of white cloth with a swastika painted on (D-DZO-0038). The remaining red fabric of a banner would have been made over into something else – perhaps children's clothing or a pillow cover.
Witness to history and exhibition object
Is it even legal to exhibit a swastika flag like this one? It is, but it depends on the exhibition strategy. Such flags existed, and some of them have survived down the years. As witnesses to history, they tell us something about what society was like then, about voluntary cooperation with the new National Socialist state, about the ways in which National Socialist propaganda worked. This is not something to be evasive about, but it's important to find strategies so such an object can be exhibited in a way that forecloses the possibility of any cult aura. This is one of the challenges that the scholarly team of the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds, in collaboration with the exhibition architects, will be addressing in preparing the new Permanent Exhibition.
For further reading:
Kuni Tremel-Eggert: Barb – die Geschichte einer deutschen Frau, München 1933
Daniel Hohrath (Hg.): Farben der Geschichte. Fahnen und Flaggen, Berlin 2007
Jörg-M. Hormann/ Dominik Plaschke: Deutsche Flaggen, Hamburg 2006
Text and research: Alexander Schmidt
Our thanks to Kenneth B. Klein for the donation, and to Manfred Storck for helping make contact.
Text license: CC BY SA 4.0
© Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds
Images may be used only with the prior consent of the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds.